Sunday, June 27, 2010

The future of RIM

These are tough days for RIM. The maker of BlackBerry reported slightly disappointing numbers and the next day the stock went down 10%. As if they were about to disappear, mirroring what happened to Palm. When they are actually doing quite well…

The market is worried about iPhone and Android. If you ask people with an iPhone or Android which phone will they buy next, they will tell you "the same device". We are talking 90% of people. The ones in line to buy an iPhone 4 were almost all old iPhone users, loyal to their device. It is not the same for a BlackBerry: if you ask their owners, they majority will tell you they are ready to switch to an iPhone or an Android.

There are good reasons to be worried. But I am still optimistic.

Sure, BlackBerry is losing ground in the US. But it is gaining it very fast in the rest of the world. Earlier, all pundits were hammering RIM for being too reliant on Verizon. Now that they are growing elsewhere, they are hammering RIM because they are losing ground at Verizon (to the Droids, I believe). Doh...

BlackBerries are perceived as the best messaging devices. Period.

However, there is way more than messaging in the Mobile Internet. There are apps, maps, search, and more. Most of all, the devices are becoming an extension of your entire life, one that starts at home and moves with you to work.

Here, RIM is behind. Way behind.

Messaging is still big, do not get me wrong. Email in the enterprise, and social networks for consumers. BlackBerry Messaging is a huge success, one that RIM should push a lot more.

However, the rest is where RIM needs to catch up. Consumers want to have a social address book, take pictures and see them on their computer later (and push them to Facebook or Flickr or Picasa), import Google calendar and share it with friends, and so on. Messaging is a piece of the puzzle, PIM is the second, rich media the third. If you rule on #1 and you are nobody in #2 and #3, you are toast in this market. Believe me, this is a market I know very well.

Most people focus on the lack of a BlackBerry with a decent touchscreen being the main issue. I disagree. It is an issue. A big one (if you check my first reaction on the BB Storm, you know how badly I thought of it). But the apps, the PIM + rich media services integrated with the cloud are where they are losing mind share. Not only with consumers, also with developers (and they are key now, remember?).

Will BB OS 6 solve all this? I hope so. It has to come with a decent device, nothing special (do not tell me the iPhone 4 looks special, the look of the device is now secondary), with some pizazz and - most of all - an integrated consumer experience on PIM and rich media. That means cutting the cord with the PC (BlackBerry Desktop should be taught in usability classes as the example of what to avoid at all cost...), creating a cloud service that seamlessly syncs all your data among your devices, plus a web view of your data. Something like MobileMe, MOTOBLUR, Nokia Ovi, Google everything. Possibly better.

The problem with RIM is also perception: most of the people believe they only sell to the enterprise. Wrong. 70% of their devices are now bought by consumers, using BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) instead of BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server). BIS gives you nothing, only messaging. Sometimes, even that is bad, like the Gmail integration: I am seeing in my Gmail Inbox on my BB all my Buzz messages (the one I send out)… Beside that, no PIM sync, no rich media. Nada.

Changing the perception of the world means having a cool looking device (consumerish, not enterprisish), attached to a cool cloud service. Something people can see, something RIM can market on TV, something that says WOW that's cool. That goes through PIM and rich media support, all in the cloud.

Cool. That is what RIM is missing. They need it badly, or the stock will keep diving (perception is everything in this world, sadly).